Friday, June 8, 2018

Killer's Kiss (1955) Low Budget New York Noir

Written, Directed, and Edited by Stanley Kubrick.

This is what you can do when you are low on budget, about $75,000, and big on talent.

What's not to like, you got a taxi dancer and a boxer, both of which are voyeurs of each other. A greasy, sleazy ballroom racketeer. And shots of New York City circa mid 1950's. The scenes of Times Square, a 1932 vintage IND R-1 subway car with the old crosswise and facing pattern rattan seats, the real Pennsylvania Station, a taxi dance ballroom, a boxing match in probably the old St.Nicholas Arena, DUMBO before it was DUMBO, and top it all off with a classic mannequin factory showdown. The film is priceless for these sequences alone.

The Story.

Three days in the life of Davey Gordon, (played by Jamie Smith, a mainly TV series actor whose first film was Faithful City (1952). In his bio,  he cryptically "then joined the company of Orson Welles" (IMDb)  whatever that means. His last credit was Route 66 (TV Series) (1963) as a Deputy), then nothing, zip nada  until a 1990  Netherlands TV series.

Davey is a fly weight boxer, from near Seattle, fighting bouts at probably the old St. Nicholas Arena that was at 69 West 66th Street, Manhattan. If Kubric shot at the actual arena, they are the only interior shots I've found. Davey's last bout was against Kid Rodriguez. It was on television in the film.. Vinnie Rapallo and Gloria, watch it. The DuMont Television Network's (the first TV Network  in the U.S. BTW) last series show ever was "Boxing From St. Nicholas Arena."

The story is told mostly in flashbacks.

Davey (Smith) and Pennsylvania Station
Preparing for a fight

St. Nicholas Arena?

Davey lives in a small studio apartment up in the Bronx. He has a view of the air shaft. For those of you who don't know WTF I'm talking about, an air shaft was a sort of natural ventilation system buildings of a certain sizes and style were required by city building codes to have. Cooler air from the basement passages would be sucked inwards towards the shaft as the top walls, exposed to sun heated up. The warm the air in the top of the shaft expands upwards leving a void that draws more cool air up to replace it, like a chimney. A natural "renewable energy" circulation system.

Anyway it not as dreary as it sounds. Across Davey's shaft, lives Gloria (played by Irene Kane a one time Vogue model and later aka Chris Chase the writer). Gloria is a local girl from out on Long Island. Gloria's festooned her dump with comfy furniture, curtains that turn an alcove into a closet, and wash line strung with a dainty lace bras, nylons, panties, and and garter belts. Gloria leaves her pull shade open. Davey's got a nightly show named "Gloria" to watch. Coincidentally in the best Woolrich manner, Gloria is both an exhibitionist and a voyeur in turn of Davey, who reciprocates by leaving his pull shade up. Cute visual meet. The ballroom dance song "Once" is the leitmotif for Davey and Gloria.



Gloria (Kane)
Anyway, the Italian Vinnie Rapallo, is played perfectly by Frank Silvera (Viva Zapata! (1952), The Appaloosa (1966), Hombre (1966)). A very successful black actor. I enjoyed his Westerns. He was like a black Paul Muni, he could play across ethnic boundaries without makeup and be entirely believable. He was also a director. Vinnie and his minions at the dance barn have a sort of demented twisted cha cha as their leitmotif.

Vinnie (Silvera)
Vinnie is the sleazy proprietor of Pleasure Land Ballroom depicted in the film as on the Westside of Times Square. It's a taxi dance joint. Vinnie likes to sample the merchandise. He samples Gloria. Vinnie has been picking up Gloria at her apartment house in his snazzy chrome accented 1951 Chevrolet Styleline De Luxe Bel Air convertible. Vinnie  a bit jealous when he sees Gloria exit her apartment house with Davey. He tells her that he's a boxer. Tells her that he has a bout that night. Tells her that they'll watch him in his office.

1951 Chevrolet Styleline De Luxe Bel Air. 
At fight time Vinnie goes out into the ballroom and collects Gloria. He has a problem seperating her from a patron. He has to call in his goombah's to rough the guy up and throw him out. Gloria and Vinnie go up to his office to watch the fight. In the sequence during the fight Gloria seems to get turned on watching Davey and Kid Rodriguez beat the shit out of each other. She embraces Rapallo, the lights go out and you know that that was "code" for getting down to business.

The Fight

Feeling down and nusing his wounds and pride, Davey is perked up by both the nightly Gloria show across the airshaft and a phone call from his uncle in Seattle.


Later after her shift at Pleasure Land, Gloria is confronted by Vinne at her apartment and is rejected quite forcibly by her. We can only speculate that maybe Vinnie wanted to go a bit father than before. Wanted to sample all her charms. Here is where, thanks to the MPPC, you can imagine the absolute worst, that maybe Vinnie wanted to go all around the world, and Gloria was only willing to go at least two-thirds of it.

Make no mistake about it, Gloria is no virgin, she was doing Vinne judging from her statement later in the warehouse when her life is on the line.

Gloria Price: [Rebuffing Vinny] Can't you get it, Vinny? To me you're just an old man. You smell bad.

Gloria's screams awaken Davey who sees Vinnie physically roughing up Gloria across the air shaft. He shouts, startles Vinne, which causes Vinnie to flee. Gloria is saved. They become close, it's  strongly inferred again by visual "code" that they become lovers. Gloria seems pretty "easy."

Davey and Gloria decide to leave town for Seattle. Davey arranges for his manager to meet him at Pleasure Land to give him his cut from the fight, while Gloria goes up to collect her last weeks wages.

It all goes Noirsville when Vinnie sends his dim bulb goons to rough up Davey and instead kill Davey's manager by mistake.


the barn

Kubric is just at the beginning of an interesting run of films. For it's budget Killer's Kiss is a visual treat, a bit rough around the edges but thoroughly immersive and very entertaining. For a New Yorker the film is an archive of Times Square, Brooklyn and a bit of city life circa 1955. The ending at the mannequin factory is worth the view alone. A Low Budget Classic 8/10.


Kubrick actually wanted a darker ending. His last shot would have been of Davey finishing his flashback story and waiting for Gloria who never shows up.